By David Young, PA
Sinn Féin needs more than “fluffy words” from Edwin Poots on his commitment to deliver Irish language legislation in the North, Michelle O’Neill has said.
Addressing the media on Wednesday, Ms O’Neill was non-committal on whether Sinn Féin intended to back the nomination of Mr Poots’ choice as First Minister – Paul Givan – following the resignation of the deposed Arlene Foster.
When Mrs Foster formally resigns as First Minister, Ms O’Neill is automatically removed from her post as well – as the joint office can only function if both positions are filled.
Both parties will then need to renominate their respective first and deputy first ministers within seven days.
I want to see more than words, I want to see action. I want to see delivery
If one of the parties declines to renominate, or if either nomination fails to gain sufficient Assembly support, then a functioning Executive could not be formed and a snap election would become likely.
While the party has not definitively stated so in public, there has been speculation that Sinn Féin is seeking firm guarantees from Mr Poots on issues such as Irish language as a prerequisite for its engagement in the nomination process.
Since his election as DUP leader last month, Mr Poots has pledged to legislate on the Irish language and all other outstanding elements of the 2020 deal that restored devolution.
Ms O’Neill said her party leader, Mary Lou McDonald, was seeking further talks with Mr Poots this week to discuss the issues.
The Deputy First Minister said she was ready “to do business” with the DUP but insisted it had to be on the basis of delivery of the outstanding elements of the New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) deal, including on Irish language protections.
Asked about Mr Poots’ assurances that he will fulfil the DUP’s commitments under NDNA, Ms O’Neill said: “I’ve noted with interest the words from Edwin Poots where he talks about that he’s a man of his word or talks about he’ll deliver all the New Decade, New Approach commitments.
“I’ll hold him to that word, very much I’ll hold them to that word.
“But I want to see more than words, I want to see action. I want to see delivery. I want to see it demonstrated, I need more than just fluffy words.”
After unveiling Mr Givan as his choice for First Minister on Tuesday, Mr Poots said he expected the nomination process to be straightforward.
“I can’t see why it wouldn’t be straightforward,” he said.
“Because the issues that the public are talking about, in particular the health service, recovery from Covid-19, waiting times in our hospitals of 335,000 – there’s a job to be done. We’ve all got a job to do.
“We’ve got a mandate to do that job. I will respect Sinn Féin’s mandate and I expect them to respect my mandate.”
On Wednesday, Ms O’Neill said she did not know Lagan Valley MLA Mr Givan very well, noting that they had never served on an Assembly committee together in their time as MLAs.
“But regardless of who is the DUP nomination, I’ll work with all the political parties and all the individuals in good faith,” she added.
“I think that’s important. If we are going to share power together and we’re going to govern together, then we must do so on the basis of respect for each other, that we must do so on the basis of delivery for the citizens that are sitting today facing issues such as out of control waiting lists, the public want us to work together to deal with those things.
“But the public also want political agreements to be honoured, they want whenever we make commitments to them that we actually see them through.
“So I will engage with all the political parties, including Edwin Poots and Paul Givan and others, to make politics work, because that’s what I’m committed to doing.”
She added: “I don’t think the public will be in any doubt in my commitment to making powersharing work. I’m here to do business.”